The News Editorial Analysis 23rd Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 23rd Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 23rd Dec 2021

UNSC adopts resolution to ease Afghan assistance

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously passed a resolution permitting a carve-out in sanctions against the Taliban to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

The resolution, put forward on Wednesday by the U.S., passed after Security Council members, including veto-wielding China and Russia, had objections to a draft version that was circulated earlier this week. “This carve-out covers urgently needed humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan, such as those that primarily benefit poor or at-risk populations or otherwise relieve human suffering, including activities related to shelter and settlement assistance, food security, education,” said senior adviser at the U.S.’s U.N mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, in his ‘explanation of vote’ statement.

As a regional leader, not a victim of circumstance.

Addressing an Indian Ocean Conference this month, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar listed two “trend lines” that have most influenced the “evolution” of Indian Ocean countries: a greater caution in power projection by the United States, and the rise of China that has permeated many spheres but also resulted in territorial tensions. He also listed two developments that have the most heightened uncertainties in the region: the American pull-out from Afghanistan and the novel coronavirus pandemic. While challenges to India and its neighbourhood were quite correctly identified, it is on these very factors that Indian leadership in the region has been challenged the most, and has fallen short.

Handling the Afghan issue

To begin with, there is the challenge that the situation in Afghanistan has thrown up, triggered by the U.S. decision to pull out all troops.

Four months after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, it is clear that New Delhi has failed to effect outcomes in a country where it has had a role historically, and is now left studying the threats that will emanate from Afghanistan — from terror groups, narcotics, and mass migration to flee the growing humanitarian crisis there. Three failures mark the Narendra Modi government’s efforts on Afghanistan thus far: the past, the present and the future.

The first is a failure to recognise where U.S. policy was leading, especially after it signed the Doha Agreement of February 2020, that made the Taliban a legitimate interlocutor, and did not impose a ceasefire with the Afghan security forces as a pre-condition. That the Government continued to insist that it was “on the same page” with the U.S. merely ensured it was blindsided when the U.S., in conjunction with its Troika Plus-mates (Russia, China and Pakistan), paved the way for the fall of the Afghan republic.

The second is one that New Delhi persists in today: the failure to secure its friends in Afghanistan. A stubborn resistance to allowing Afghans needing shelter — this includes students, artists and women activists, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and National Directorate of Security (NDS) officials who are in particular danger because they trained in India, and members of Afghan minorities that are not Sikh or Hindu (Hazaras, Tajiks, Ahmadis and Shi’as) — has left thousands of Afghans feeling betrayed by a country they once considered “second home”. The cancellation of all visas that had been granted prior to August has only strengthened the belief that the Government has closed its doors to the very Afghan “brothers and sisters” in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly promised to stand by during a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting on August 17.

The third, is a failure to sow the seeds today for a better future for Afghanistan tomorrow, one which has a strong Indian presence in it. Among all the Afghan friends New Delhi has chosen to shun are members of opposition groups, including the “Resistance Front” led by Ahmad Massoud and former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh. The wariness to meet, support or host those who pose a counter to the Taliban regime today — even to provide a platform for them to speak — is in sharp contrast to the 1990s when New Delhi kept up its contacts with the Northern Alliance, supported their families in India, and admitted thousands of other Afghan refugees, an act that held it in good stead for two decades, after the Taliban was defeated in 2001. The Modi government’s moves thus far, building furtive links with the Taliban, with plans to send a small amount of food and aid through Pakistan (not its independently built route via Chabahar), and convening a conference of National Security Advisers of Central Asian countries, while proactive, will hardly fulfil that purpose in the future. Above all, India cannot be seen as toeing a line laid out by “western powers” that have themselves been defeated in the country on whether or not to re-establish its presence in Kabul or rebuild connectivity initiatives. Nor can it be seen as complicit in actions by the Russia-China combine that have protected the Taliban in Kabul and the Tatmadaw in Naypyitaw to subvert two of the world’s newest democracies.

Dealing with China

The next big challenge India has faced is from Chinese aggression, quite directly. Regardless of the Indian Prime Minister’s statement in June 2020 that “neither has anyone come in, nor is anyone inside” Indian territory, it is clear from a number of ground sources, satellite maps and official releases that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has amassed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in unprecedented numbers for “peace-time”, built villages and settled populations inside disputed territory claimed by India; it has also dug trenches, brought in heavy artillery and prepared road and helicopter and aircraft landing infrastructure for its forces right up to the boundary with India.

The Government’s reticence in acknowledging the Chinese actions is no longer seen as being “discretion over valour”. It is seen, particularly in the region, as deliberate diffidence on India’s part, particularly given the brutal killing of 20 Indian soldiers at Galwan last year.

More surprising is the oft-repeated official statement that despite dozens of rounds of military and ministerial talks, the Government is unaware of the reasons for the Chinese action, which is disingenuous or exposes a lack of strategic thinking.

Those who have analysed the situation more closely have pointed to five decided objectives behind China’s aggression at the LAC: apart from the obvious hegemonistic line Beijing has adopted to “reclaim” territory it claims it has lost over hundreds of years from the South China Sea to Tibet, the PLA plan is: to restrict India’s recent efforts at building border infrastructure, bridges, and roads right up to the LAC; to restrict any possible perceived threat to Xinjiang and Tibet; to restrict India’s ability to threaten China’s key Belt and Road project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), including a second link highway it plans from the Mustagh pass in occupied Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan, and to blunt any plans as outlined by the Home Minister in 2019 for India to reclaim Aksai Chin and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) militarily.

Impact of some bad moves

In the face of such a clear-cut strategy, New Delhi must not only counter China more vocally and robustly but also be seen to provide leadership to the region that outpowers Beijing’s influence.

The first is to resolve not to make spaces for China in the manner that the Modi government has during the coronavirus pandemic. By failing to keep its promises to provide vaccines, even those that had been paid for by countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, and to send the paltry number required by Bhutan and the Maldives, India has left an indelible scar in the region.

Second, India cannot cast itself as a counter to China by invoking its democratic system unless it is prepared to adhere to the very principles the Indian Republic’s founders committed to: as a pluralistic, representative, inclusive power that respects the rights of each citizen, the media, and civil society. While neighbours may not emulate India, they admire these very qualities that differentiate New Delhi from Beijing.

The third imperative, which would promote India’s leadership in the region, is to stop seeing collaborations with other countries for projects in South Asia as a “win-win”. In fact, recent surveys by think tanks Carnegie ( and the Centre for Social and Economic Progress ( have found that while India is a preferred strategic partner for most of the countries in the neighbourhood (with the obvious exception of Pakistan), possible Indian collaborations with the U.S., Japan, Europe, etc. are not as popular, especially as they are seen as “anti-China” rival platforms, which these countries would want to avoid. These partnerships also hamper India’s ability to stand up for its neighbours when required, as some in Dhaka had hoped it might, when the U.S. chose to slap sanctions on Bangladesh’s multi-agency anti-terror Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force right as the nation’s 50th anniversary celebrations began.

As a result, New Delhi must block all external attempts to recast India as a “middle power”, one which looks to the example of others to decide its best interests and needs the support of other powers to chart its course of action in its neighbourhood. More than anything else, India’s response to neighbourhood challenges must not paint it as a “victim of circumstance” but as an arbiter of its own destiny, and the region’s.

Why the electoral reforms Bill is a problem

The Government has rushed the passage of the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in Parliament, also amending the Representation of the People Act, 1950 by facilitating the linking of a person’s Aadhaar number with electoral roll data.

The amendment provides that an electoral registration officer may “require” an individual to furnish their Aadhaar number in order to establish their identity. Even persons already enrolled “may” be “required” by the officer to furnish their Aadhaar numbers in order to authenticate their entries in the electoral roll. Registered voters have the option of providing their Aadhaar number to Government authorities. The amendment states that no one shall be denied inclusion in the electoral roll, nor shall their names be deleted from the electoral roll due to their inability to furnish the Aadhaar number “due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed”. Such individuals may be allowed to furnish alternate documents, as prescribed by the Central government.

There are various substantive and procedural concerns with the amendments passed. First, although the Government has termed these measures as voluntary, the provisions of the amendment belie this. The electoral officer clearly has uncanalised discretion — since the law does not prescribe any guiding principles — to decide when an Aadhaar number may be “required”. Moreover, the Central government has the final say in prescribing the conditions (“sufficient cause”) under which an individual will be permitted to enter or remain on the electoral rolls, in case of her “inability” to furnish their Aadhaar.

This means that the Central government will decide what reasons are considered acceptable for a voter to remain on the electoral roll. Interestingly, the law does not even consider a situation where an individual may be opposed to linking her Aadhaar number to the electoral database — further undermining the voluntary premise of the amendments.

Burden of proof shifts

In this manner, the burden of proof has been reversed. Instead of the Government proactively ensuring registration on the electoral rolls (such as through house-to-house verification) to achieve universal adult franchise, the burden now shifts to individuals who may be unable/unwilling to link their Aadhaar to justify their retention on the rolls. In fact, deletion from the voter rolls will happen without any procedural safeguards since at the moment, the law does not provide for a right to a hearing before such deletion.

Such a step has real world consequences. In 2015, media reports highlighted how lakhs of voters in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were reportedly excluded from the electoral process due to the practice of linking Aadhaar numbers with electoral ID. Right to Information replies indicated that such deletion was carried out without any door-to-door verification of the identity of individuals. The Supreme Court of India had to finally intervene to stop the linking process since the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act was under challenge then.

Political profiling

Second, there are concerns that the amendment will result in political profiling. By linking electoral IDs with Aadhaar numbers, it is much easier for the Government to track which voter has accessed welfare subsidies and benefits using their Aadhaar. This can be used by political parties to selectively target their messages to specific voters, using information that is not publicly available.

Political profiling using Aadhaar data is not unheard of. In April 2021, the Madras High Court asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to ascertain how confidential information held by it may have been leaked in light of “credible allegations” that only mobile phones linked to Aadhar cards received bulk SMS messages to join WhatsApp groups of a particular political party during election campaigning in Puducherry. Given these concerns, it is worrying that the amendment is conspicuously silent in reiterating the secret nature of such data or prohibiting the Election Commission of India or any other agency from sharing such information.

There are also procedural concerns that relate to the manner in which the amendment was passed. The Government introduced the Bill on December 20 and passed it on the same day in the Lok Sabha, while pushing it through the Rajya Sabha on the next date (December 21). Members of Parliament were not given time to understand or debate the implications of the amendments. Despite calls for division of vote in both Houses, the law was passed on the basis of a voice vote. This undermines the fundamental premise of a parliamentary democracy — to allow elected representatives the opportunity to voice the concerns of their constituents over laws that affect them.

Not substantiated

This is especially important since the Government has failed to provide any empirical data that demonstrates either the extent of the problem of bogus voters in the electoral roll (justifying this extraordinary measure) or the success of Aadhaar in de-deduplication. It is now well known that the Aadhaar database is beset with errors and exclusions. This is partly because there is no verification of the authenticity of the demographic information on the Aadhaar database, i.e. the UIDAI does not independently authenticate the information provided by an applicant at the time of enrolment.

In fact, both the Calcutta High Court and the Allahabad High Court have refused to rely on the authenticity of Aadhaar data, noting, “There is definitely something amiss with the Aadhaar enrolment process if important demographic information such as the name of the applicant’s father, as in the case in hand, can be falsified and even go undetected.”

Finally, it is worth questioning how the Aadhaar project is once again being used for purposes far beyond the stated “welfare” purpose that was upheld by the Supreme Court of India inthe Aadhaar judgment as the basis for the introduction of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill in Parliament.

It is likely that some of these issues will be litigated before the Supreme Court. One can only hope that unlike other issues such as electoral bonds that have been pending for years, this challenge will be decided expeditiously. The success of our democracy may very well depend on it.

Vrinda Bhandari is a lawyer in Delhi

Looking beyond the Forest Rights Act

The News Editorial Analysis 23rd Dec 2021

The Forest Rights Act (FRA) has been in existence for 15 years. As on April 30, 2020, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had received 42,50,602 claims (individual and community), of which titles were distributed to 46% of the applicants. If the Forest Department’s views are considered, the implementation process is more or less over. But the supporters of tribal rights allege that the Department is overlooking the genuine claims of the tribal people. Despite the Ministry being the implementing agency, the role of the Forest Department in granting titles is crucial because the lands claimed are under its jurisdiction. While both sides hold extreme positions, the situation on the ground presents a mixed picture.

Issues in implementation

The journey of the FRA’s implementation has never been smooth. The Act provides for democratic tenets in the implementation process. In the first stage, it requires the constitution of a Forest Rights Committee comprising members from within the village by conducting a Gram Sabha with two-thirds of the members present at the meeting. The process was not followed in many places. These committees were mostly constituted by the Panchayat Secretaries upon the directives received from District Magistrates at short notice. The nominations for members for the taluk-level and district-level committees were also not transparent. The contribution of women to the forest economy is well known. The FRA provides for equal rights in titles issued under the Act for women. They have the equitable role at every stage of decision-making. However, on the ground, the women were hardly visible in this regard.

It was disappointing that in the initial stages of implementation, there was insistence on satellite images as evidence while other admissible proofs were ignored, as happened in Gujarat. This resulted in mass rejections of claims by the authorities. It is a different matter that a writ petition filed by the civil society groups in 2011 forced the authorities to look into the matter afresh in the State.

In some villages around Bastar, Chhattisgarh, the plots claimed and the documents confirming the award did not match. Besides, the extent of land that was awarded was far smaller than what was claimed within the ceiling. The claimants did not protest anticipating that whatever little they had received could be taken back by the authorities. Further, various welfare and developmental schemes of the Rural Department were not extended everywhere to the tribal people who received documents of land possession under the FRA despite the directives issued by the Ministry to treat them on a par with others.

Overall, poor awareness levels among the tribal people proved to be a handicap, especially in the scheduled areas which are remotely located. To effectively present claims, a fair understanding of the Act and its implementation process is necessary. Some NGOs, like in Dang district of Gujarat, made a difference by hand-holding the beneficiaries at every step. However, the involvement of NGOs was missing in some interior areas in States like Chhattisgarh where insurgency was affecting the lives of the people. Evidence suggests that implementation was better in areas which were fairly close to urban settings or where accessibility was easy. In these places, most Central and State government schemes and programmes such as Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Food Security Act, National Health Mission; Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana were implemented, empowering the people to assert their positions.

Declining produce, livelihoods

Many tribal areas are witnessing a decline in the quality of forest produce in their vicinity, thus forcing them to look for other sources of livelihood. In Chhattisgarh, in many villages, earnings from activities such as collection of tendu leaves for rolling local cigars were affected when there was an influx of labourers from Bihar who were willing to work for low wages. Poor market and exploitation by local traders/middlemen were no less demoralising.

The recognition given to their lands under the FRA gave the tribal people a psychological boost. However, they possess lands (including the lands recognised under the FRA) that are small, of poor quality (particularly lands located on hill slopes) and are not very fertile. The lack of irrigation facilities forces them to depend only on rainfall. To enhance their income, they migrate to work as construction or road-laying labourers. In their opinion, this will continue until the wages earned through any source in the villages matches with the wages in urban areas.

NGO representatives working in the tribal areas believe that the livelihoods of the locals would improve if horticulture practices are promoted in addition to bamboo and aloe vera plantations with an assured market. A popular recommendation is medical and ecotourism along the lines of the Kerala model. On the other hand, given the quality of education received by the youth in the remote districts, the possibility of acquiring meaningful jobs remains thin. Those accustomed to urban culture do not feel like going back to their villages. Civil society groups, therefore, believe that providing skill-based education with assured jobs on a large scale in proportion to the demand would do wonders in these areas.

A majority of the tribal communities in India are poor and landless. They practise small-scale farming, pastoralism, and nomadic herding. On the Human Development Index, the tribal-populated States always rank lower than the national average. Not long ago, a tragic news article was published about a tribal man walking 12 km in Odisha carrying his dead wife on his shoulder all night. A Chhattisgarh tribesman who had led the members of his village in a march to Delhi in 2004 to demand forest rights told this researcher that the lives of the tribal people are insignificant for our leaders. He said the Central government in the 1970s generously welcomed refugees from Bangladesh into forests and provided them a house and a land to farm, whereas natives were still being denied the same.

The way forward

The FRA was never going to be a panacea to address all the issues of the tribal people, but it is important. To improve the condition of the tribal people, especially those living in remote areas, there needs to be a push on every possible aspect of their socioeconomic life. This can be attained if schemes and programmes already drafted for the tribal people are implemented in letter and spirit across the country. With protective laws like the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, in place, it is only a matter of will. One way forward could be to induct people who are sensitive to the cause of tribal people in the decision-making process at every stage.

Madhusudan Bandi is a faculty member with the Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad.

A for Assam, N for Northeast

On Monday, the Nagaland Assembly convened for a special session during which it demanded the repeal of the contentious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) not just from the State but everywhere in the Northeast. The resolution was triggered by the botched Indian Army operation of December 4 that led to the death of 14 civilians in Mon district. Even as the House was in session, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the Act will continue to be in force in his State and the government would take a call at a later date “if this kind of peaceful situation continues”. Incidentally, the Nagaland Assembly is without an Opposition, with all parties becoming constituents of the Neiphiu Rio-led United Democratic Alliance in August to “work collectively towards achieving a peaceful and amicable solution” to the protracted Naga political imbroglio. On Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s orders, Mr. Sarma met Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), in September. He explained away his discordant note on AFSPA as “in the context of our State and not Nagaland because I have no jurisdiction to do so”.

As BJP’s point man, troubleshooter, Mr. Fix-it all rolled into one for the Northeast, the former Congressman often finds himself in situations where his role as convener of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), forged by the BJP in 2016 as an agglomeration of parties vying with the Congress, is at cross purposes with his helmsmanship of the Assam government. AFSPA isn’t a one-off. The starkest illustration came during the border crisis with Mizoram when six Assam police personnel and a bystander were killed in firing on July 26 on National Highway 306. Mr. Sarma swiftly donned the Chief Minister’s hat, issuing provocative statements that he justified as boosting the morale of his police force and trading charges with his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga, a NEDA ally, on Twitter while tagging the Prime Minister’s Office and Mr. Shah.

As a freshly minted BJP man, Mr. Sarma has tagged his older reputation of an efficient administrator to that of a firebrand Hindutva proponent, pushing issues such as beef ban, the need for a fresh National Register of Citizens exercise, and implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and supposedly illegal land encroachments by supposedly illegal immigrants to the forefront of the governance agenda. This, in a culturally, religiously, ethnically diverse State surrounded by an even more diverse neighbourhood, is no enviable task. But it isn’t quite the paradox it seems to be. For one, a polarising rhetoric in Assam hasn’t worked to the BJP’s detriment. The party retained power and through open invitations to defect, extended by the Chief Minister to Opposition lawmakers, has inched towards the simple majority mark on its own. As far as the broader region is concerned, the NEDA convener knows all too well that frontier State politicians are instinctively loath to alienate themselves from the patronage networks that flow from being in alignment with the Centre. A BJP-led government in Manipur, by that token, owes as much to this need for access to the purse strings as the manoeuvring skills of Mr. Sarma.

With the Congress in disarray in the Northeast, the bigger threat to Mr. Sarma’s Chief Minister/NEDA convener dualism is the new Trinamool Congress push to mop up a slice of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the Northeast come 2024. The party has already deployed its Bengal bounce to good effect in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya. If Congress stirs itself up to contest this new bid for Opposition paramountcy, the man credited with expanding the BJP’s footprint in the Northeast would have much work to do to safeguard the gains of years past.

‘Changes to marriage age will contradict other laws’

The amendments proposed to the anti-child marriage law defines a child as someone under the age of 21 and contradicts laws where the legal age of competence is recognised as 18. This, experts say, may criminalise young people.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to raise the age of marriage for women to 21, amends the definition of child to mean “a male or female who has not completed twenty-one years of age”. It overrides personal laws of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Parsis, as well as the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The Lok Sabha has referred this Bill to a Standing Committee after MPs demanded a deeper scrutiny and wider consultations.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising tweeted: “How patronising and patriarchal to call someone over the age of 18 a ‘child’, ready and fit to vote but not to marry, is this constitutional morality.”

Voting age

The 61st Constitution Amendment Act of 1988 defines the voting age for elections to Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies as 18.

The Majority Act, 1875 defines the age of majority as “the age of eighteen years and not before”, and as 21 years if a guardian is appointed.

Under the Indian Contract Act, 1872 a person should have attained the age of majority in order to be able to enter into a contract.

The law to punish sexual crimes against children, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 too recognises a child as someone under the age of 18 years and thereby implies that the age of consent for sex is also 18 years.

The law that deals with juvenile offenders (or children in conflict with law) and children who need care and protection, that is, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 does the same.

Under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009, that guarantees access to education, a child is someone between the ages of six and 14 years. Whereas under the anti-child labour law or the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which prohibits the engagement of children in all occupations and bans adolescents in hazardous occupations, a child is “a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age” and an adolescent means “a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his eighteenth year”.

“At one level, we say that the age to enter into contracts and to vote is 18 years. We are recognising that a person has the mental capacity to make decisions that will affect her life commercially or as a citizen, but at the same time when it comes to her personal life, she doesn’t have the right to make decisions. The proposed law makes an artificial distinction. By making marriages under 21 years invalid, we are criminalising those who marry under this age and depriving them of protections under law,” says Divya Balagopal, senior advocate, Mundkur Law Partners.

Tweaking the definition of a child by amending the age criteria should be done only when it enables, and not when it deprives someone of their rights, warn experts.

Centre decides to conduct genome sequencing of all positive cases in 8 cities.

Suspecting Omicron community transmission in eight cities in seven states, the Central government has decided to conduct whole genome sequencing of Covid-positive RT-PCR samples from these cities — Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata. 

“One of the key epidemiological indices to be ascertained at this stage is the presence of Omicron transmission in the community in larger cities,” said Sujeet Kumar Singh, head of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in a letter written to the seven state governments on Wednesday. 

Citing a meeting with state surveillance officers of these states last week, Singh said the eight cities were identified for monitoring community transmission. “Accordingly, it was decided in consultations with the INSACOG genome sequencing laboratories (IGSLs) that all RT-PCR positive samples from these cities would be sent for whole genome sequencing at designated IGSLs,” said the letter, accessed by this newspaper. 

An official from the NCDC explained that as of now, testing all RT-PCR samples for the presence of the new variant, which has been flagged for its dramatic transmission rate, will not be a problem as the number of cases, though rising, is still limited. “Subjecting all Covid-positive samples to this test will give a clearer picture of the penetration of the variant in the community,” he said.

A separate document prepared by the Union health ministry and accessed by this newspaper, which lists 222 patients confirmed with Omicron in India, shows that nearly 60 patients did not have any history of international travel or any contact with those who travelled abroad. Three of the patients have been identified from a “locality cluster” in Delhi. 

Early Narasimha sculptures from Karnataka

Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu, is an important form in Indian sculpture and painting. The zoo-anthropomorphic form has been a popular divinity.

Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu, is an important form in Indian sculpture and painting. The zoo-anthropomorphic form has been a popular divinity. The form of Narasimha was exclusively manifested to punish Hiranyakashipu to protect his child devotee Prahlada. The Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana have elaborate accounts of the narration of this incarnation of the God to protect Prahlada from his father Hiranyakashipu. The death of Hiranyakashipu at the hands of Narasimha has been vividly narrated in Indian mythology and lore. There are many mantra-stutis done by various seers and saints in ancient India: Child devotee Prahlada, Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhwacharya have written stutis to please the mighty God. In their prayers, Narasimha’s person, mane, anger and sharp nails have been praised. 

It is interesting to note that we are only aware of this Ugra (fierce) form of Narasimha in most of early literature, while his kevala/girija (benign) forms are scarce. However, in early Indian sculpture, images have been surprisingly only seen in the latter form. Early examples of Narasimha began to be carved around the 3–4th centuries CE. The Guptas, Vakatakas (Vidarbha), Vishnukundins (Andhra) and Kadambas (Karnataka) are some of the rulers who patronised the Vedic faith during these centuries, and Hindu art and architecture began to flourish everywhere.

There are a good number of Narasimha images found in Karnataka that are datable to the 4–6th centuries CE. The Narasimha sculptures from the Kadamba period are undoubtedly the earliest examples in peninsular India. A majority of the images depict the God’s post-combat form and the physical features show that they represent the benign aspect of the deity. In this form, the deity is shown in seated or standing posture and sometimes with his ayudhas. The artists of the Kadamba period favoured the seated form of Narasimha. Before the introduction of the zoo-anthropomorphic form, they employed the zoomorphic form of the deity.

A zoomorphic stone image of Narasimha has been found in the Kodlu forest, near Tirthahalli in Shimoga district. The image is shown seated in a rampant position and is being worshipped even today by the locals. The zoo-anthropomorphic representation of Narasimha is also found in good numbers all over the Kadamba region. What we are generally acquainted with is the Ugra form of the God shown as tearing open the entrails of Hiranyakashipu. However, the early forms of Narasimha found in the Kadamba region are totally different. The figures are generally shown in seated postures in sukhasana or savyalalitasana. Three types of deities may be found in the region: Narasimha sculptures depicted without any weapons in the hands; sculptures with the bahubijaphala (auspicious seed, fruits) held in the right hand, while the left is again idle; Narasimha figures with either shankha or chakra as their attribute. Interestingly, the majority of the images found so far and datable to the Kadamba period have two hands. Most of them are simple in form; they have minimal decoration and in a noteworthy feature, the yajnopavita (sacred thread) is absent.  Interestingly, the lotus is invariably depicted on the head of the figure. In many examples, the lotus motif is shown like a crown (Padma Sirsha), with a central projection and petals spreading evenly all around. The lotus symbolises the samyak jnana (supreme knowledge) of a person.

Narasimha in kevala form found at Halasi (Belgaum district) has simple features. The image, about two feet in height, is depicted as seated in sukhasana and holding a saligrama (auspicious stone) in the right hand, while the left hand is kept on the thigh. The details of the face are very much lion-like. The mane is shown in circular form as freely spread around the neck. The physique of the deity is realistically rendered. A lotus is carved over the head and the deity wears a dhoti up to the knees. The sculpture is dated to the early 4th century CE. Its typology may also be compared with its counterpart in Ramtek near Nagpur.

More refined features in Narasimha sculptures may be seen in the images found at Kubaturu and Kuppagadde (Shimoga district), Basruru and Mugduru-Sampikeri (Uttarakannada District), and Nilogal (Koppal district). The Narasimha sculptures are depicted as seated in sukhasana. The bodily details are better rendered. The torso, arms, legs and facial details are carved realistically. The deity also has a lotus crown, shown projected upward. The mane is divided into wavy locks and spread evenly on either side of the face. The deity has a coiled armlet, bangle-like wristlets and twisted, thick rope-like waistband. These Narasimha images are more developed in their physical modulation than the Halasi sculpture and may be dated to the later part of the 4th century CE. All the images found in the Kadamba region have been carved in local stone. A terracotta image of Narasimha from Nilogal is the only sculpture found so far in that medium. The face and left side shoulder are badly mutilated, but with its existing features, it may be confirmed to be the imagery of Narasimha. The images developed as independent sculptures with two arms, without or with weapons, and exhibit early features. Stylistically and formally, they are coeval in date and iconography to those found in North India and Vidarbha. The tradition of similar image-making was later inherited by the early Chalukyas of Badami.

Narasimha as an early avatara of Vishnu became very popular among the Bhagavatic practitioners. The benign form of Narasimha was developed with a great sense of devotion. Perhaps the earliest example of Narasimha in combat can be seen only in 578 CE at Cave 3 in Badami. In the post-Chalukya era, Narasimha developed as an independent cultic deity, venerated by a large number of people.

The complexity of environmental impact calculations.

When climate change and global warming decisions began initially, policymakers quickly zeroed in on emissions of various greenhouse gases as the primary culprit. Fuels were quickly labelled as dirty or clean, largely based on the emissions. Solar, wind and hydro were clean, green and renewable sources of power whereas coal and petroleum were big villains. Natural gas was also bad, though not as bad as coal or crude oil.

Since then, great strides have been made in terms of solar and wind farms, rooftop solar, and lithium-ion batteries to store power and electric vehicles (EVs) that will not use dirty petrol or diesel and hence help cut emissions that are contributing to global warming.

The focus on emissions has also helped in reaching multiple broad agreements between groups of countries, though not a total consensus. Ambitious targets of emission cuts and replacement of dirty fuels with clean ones have been set.

But as climate researchers assess the environmental impact of different activities, they are pointing out that the issues are not as black and white as policymakers—especially those in developed countries—like to think. Multiple questions have cropped up: How clean are clean sources of energy? What is the long-term impact of mining activities done to fulfil the world’s increasing appetite for EVs and hence lithium batteries? Are petroleum and coal nearly as bad as they are painted to be?

Take for example the environmental footprint of solar panels. These have come to the forefront in the climate change battle as their prices keep going down, largely because of large-scale production in China. It took some time before people started looking at the environmental cost of cheaper solar panels. Many Chinese solar panel makers depended on cheap coal-fired power. Solar panels made using renewable sources of energy cost far more. Of late, many Chinese solar panel makers have started using alternative sources of energy but a vast majority of the panels currently installed globally don’t have as clean a footprint as many like to think.

Broaden the discussion from emissions to overall environmental impact and suddenly the calculations become even more trickier for solar panels. Photovoltaic cells contain cadmium, gallium, germanium, selenium, tellurium and other minerals. These, in turn, are often the by-products of mining and refining operations of other metals and minerals. Most of these mining and refining activities have a very significant environmental impact, and a lot of it is not emission -related. Beyond that, there is a matter of disposal of end-of-life solar panels. Recycling capacities have not yet caught up with the solar panel installations, and in a decade or so, we will be looking at another huge environmental problem because of discarded solar panels.

The story of solar panels is repeated in the case of wind turbines, with some changes here and there. Wind turbines generate clean power but the materials required for building them are hardly ecologically friendly.

The lithium question is even more complicated and shows how the interests of the developed countries can diverge from those of underdeveloped nations. The demand for lithium-ion batteries has shot up as developed countries have set ambitious goals for EV adoption. In turn, that has led to an increased focus on lithium mining and refining—white oil as it has been dubbed. That is good news economically but bad news on the environmental front for the Lithium Triangle countries—Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.

The EV race in the US and EU is giving rise to a mining boom in the Lithium Triangle countries that will leave a huge impact on the ecology of some regions. But it is a trade-off that is necessary to reduce the emissions by richer countries.

Meanwhile, what was once considered the dirtiest fuel source—coal—is getting a relook. Underground coal gasification and other clean coal technologies like carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) produce important fuels while reducing emissions to negligible proportions. Or take the case of grey and green hydrogen. The gas is considered one of the most promising clean fuels. The problem is that currently we produce what is dubbed “grey hydrogen”, which requires the gasification of coal or lignite. It is thus considered a dirty fuel. A somewhat cleaner hydrogen is the so-called “blue hydrogen”, which is produced by steam methane reformation with the emissions captured through CCUS technology. The holy grail for green scientists is “green hydrogen”, where the gas is made by the electrolysis of water. The only issue: The process is prohibitively expensive and impractical so far. Whether that will change in the coming decades is open to question though research is going on.

In climate science, everything is about trade-offs. By now, scientists and researchers realise that there is really no technology that does not harm the earth, sea or atmosphere. The issue is choosing those that do the least harm and also design ways to restore the damage being done. And that is what the climate battle is all about.



The News Editorial Analysis 22nd Dec 2021


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